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EXCERPT | A Home on Vorster Street by Razina Theba

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A Home on Vorster Street by Razina Theba.
A Home on Vorster Street by Razina Theba.

A Home on Vorster Street (Jonathan Ball) is Razina Theba’s memoir of growing up in Fordsburg – in the tiny family flat on the street of the title. She witnesses her family’s harassment by the apartheid security police, even as her parents strive to make their business at the Oriental Plaza a success. She describes, in this heart-warming and funny book, the ebb and flow of a tight-knit community trying to survive apartheid. This extract from the book sets the scene in Fietas (originally Johannesburg’s "Malay location", from which its inhabitants were forcibly removed in the late 1950s, and now named Pageview) and life at the then-new Oriental Plaza. Theba is an attorney and divorce mediator.

The Oriental Plaza, a vast shopping mall in Fordsburg housing 360 traders, was built in the 1970s. As part of apartheid spatial planning, traders who had established businesses in 14th Street, Fietas, were forced to move to the Oriental Plaza and rent shops at exorbitant rentals.The ultimate purpose of this planning project was to turn Fietas into a whites-only area.

Entering into negotiations to get the buy-in of the traders, who ran successful businesses, would have given them a false sense that they had a say, so they were quite literally bulldozed into trading at the Oriental Plaza. This did not happen in one fell swoop, as the Oriental Plaza was built in sections, with the North Mall renting out space to traders first. The Soweto Uprisings in 1976 halted the relocation but by then, enough businesses and homes had been bulldozed to make trading in Fietas no longer viable. People of Indian heritage the world over are known for their tenacity, resilience and entrepreneurial spirit, and the traders took on the challenge of making their businesses in the Oriental Plaza successful with grudging determination.

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